Wednesday, February 16, 2011

President's Day

I was at my mom's over the weekend for a Valentine's Day dinner, when one of my children brought me this book to examine.

I gasped, and asked Mom if I could borrow it for Poetry Wednesday.

My grandmother earned this book for perfect attendance as a young girl in Nebraska. If I have my dates correct, she was ten when she received it. She just celebrated her 93rd birthday, and still had it to give to my mother.

The title is Memory Gems, poems compiled by Sam Stephenson, a Nebraska Superintendent of Schools. And if you wanted to order one, all you have to do is send 50 cents to Lincoln School Supply Co in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The poetry is 'graded,' so that easier poems are in the earlier grades and more difficult ones for older grades. It starts with First Grade, which has a lot of Robert Lewis Stevenson, and ends with Eighth-Grade, which has a poem spanning 11 pages. It's called The Building of a Ship, and no author attribution. (Trust me, if I had the ability to write a poem that long, I for sure would put my name on it!)

As I was paging through it, I noticed each grade has at least one patriotic poem. A poem about American History or the lyrics to our national anthem. Since my younger two and I are studying American History in school this year and next, they caught my attention. I'll not copy all of them here, but in honor of President's Day on Monday, here are a couple of selections about, or from, our two most famous presidents.

James Russell Lowell

Soldier and statesmen, rarest unison;
High-poised example of great duties done
Simple as breathing, a world's honors worn
As life's indifferent gifts to all men born;
Dumb for himself, unless it were to God,
But for his barefoot soldiers eloquent,
Tramping the snow to coral where they trod,
Held by his awe in hollow-eyed content;
Modest, yet firm as Nature's self; unblamed
Save by men his nobler temper shamed;
Never seduced through show of present good
By other than unsettling lights to steer
New-trimmed in Heaven, nor than his steadfast mood
More steadfast, far from rashness as from fear;
Rigid, but with himself first, grasping still
In swerveless poise the wave-beat helm of will;
Not honored then or now because he wooed
The popular voice, but that he still withstood;
Broad-minded, high-souled, there is but one
Who was all this and ours, and all men's -

The Gettysburg Address
Abraham Lincoln

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

(while not technically poetry, Lincoln's speech is so beautiful and so moving I consider it poetry.)


Beth said...

What a treasure! I have something very similar that was given to my grandmother, in I believe 1913, maybe earlier, for something like perfect attendance or not missing a day of school (I will have to check. Believe it or not, it is sitting on a book shelf in my bathroom, love to have the things I love out in the open). The poems in my book are not that great like these. What a treat the Washington poem is. I especially like these lines:
Not honored then or now because he wooed
The popular voice, but that he still withstood;

And of course, the Gettysburg Address. I had to learn it in school and I am supposing my children will too. Peaceful weekend to you! Have fun in Kentucky.

Kris Livovich said...

You are right about Lincoln's address, it is beautiful. And those old books with the perfect, beautiful handwriting - especially when they belonged to someone we love - are so nice to look through.